Santiago de Cuba: Cuba's "Other" Capital
Cathedrals and Cars
Two of the most striking things about Santiago de Cuba, the country's second-largest city, is the wealth of colorful colonial architecture (including the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, shown here), and vintage American automobiles.
Around Town: La Escalera
One of Santiago's most well-known and evocative shops is La Escalera, a bookseller that also offers vintage phonograph albums and books (keep an eye out for Hemingway).
While Havana may still lure many more tourists, Santiago de Cuba has undertaken ambitious renovations to honor its 500th anniversary. The always colorful city is looking cleaner, and more fixed up, than ever.
The City By Night
At dusk and into the night, the great variety of Santiago's businesses glow and add even more vibrant color to the cityscape. This flower shop near the historic center of town is just one example.
Children play everywhere -- and everything -- in the streets of Santiago de Cuba, and a free-flowing hose provides a bit of cooling down as well as fun on a hot day.
Soccer in the Streets
Cuban kids are as crazy about football as everywhere else. In the streets of Santiago de Cuba, this gang of young athletes took a break from a fierce game (with a barely inflated ball) to strut their stuff for the camera.
As passionate as neighborhood boys are about their football, Cuban men play dominoes (often in the middle of the street, as was the case in this photograph) with the same attack and concentration.
Working In The Streets
As much as play occurs in the streets of Santiago de Cuba, so does work. In addition to vendors selling from corners, curbs, and inside doorways, various tradesmen work on the street as well. Here, an entrepreneurial haircutter manages an open-air barbershop, complete with ad-hoc mirror.
Men in Pink
The city's men -- both young and old -- wear more bright colors, almost, than the women. Sartorially splendid, most Cuban males (particularly the younger ones) are delighted to show off a bit for the camera.
No Shirts Required
Backed by the Sierra Maestra Mountains, Santiago holds the heat and humidity of the Caribbean Sea it faces. Which makes for plenty of shirtless strolling on a sultry afternoon.
Dancing in the Squares
Santiago de Cuba's many public squares are centers of life, as they are in all Latin American cities. Here, a major traditional dance competition has drawn competitors, and their families, from throughout the region.
Weekends in Santiago's busy public squares offer many diversions for every age. This handsome goat pulls a small wagon with toddlers around the perimeter of one of the main squares, and poses in between for photographs.
Weekends in the city are colorful and full of sounds -- particularly music. Marching bands that have come to Santiago to compete with each other amass in the public square and prepare to march the streets for top honors.
With internet access and wifi more a promise than a realty in most parts of Cuba, those areas of the city that are permitted to transmit wifi are magnets for Cubans looking to communicate with loved ones, such as this couple, here.
While the famous image of Cuban transportation is a vintage American automobile, most Cubans in Santiago de Cuba get around in buses of all kinds, and on motorcycle, moped and bicycle. Outside of Santiago, the number of Cubans in the region who use horses for transportation is surprisingly high.
They are Instagram bait, these vintage American automobiles that prowl Santiago de Cuba's narrow streets, and there's no escaping their beauty. Lovingly and carefully tended by their Cuban owners, many of these cars operate as taxis or as rental vehicles--the perfect way to explore Cuba and channel its colorful vehicular history.
Cuba's Musical Center
If music is your passion, don't miss visiting Santiago de Cuba, which trumps Havana as being the true wellspring of the nation's infectious and inimitable music--spawned in the cross currents of African rhythms and Spanish musical traditions.
With deep roots in African and European culture, Santiago de Cuba brims with festivals and performances that celebrate that legacy. Here, a folkloric dance company recreates (with dramatic accuracy) a Santeria ritual, complete with possession by various personages of the spirit world.
Perched on steep hillsides that skitter down to the water, Santiago de Cuba's historic city sits on the innermost reaches of a large bay. It's here along the malecón, which translates from Spanish to mean pier or jetty, but can describe seaside promenades, that locals gather to walk, talk, cycle, and sit on benches to watch the water--and each other.
Entering The Bay
While the city of Santiago lies at the upper end of the pouch-shaped bay, the entrance is marked by high bluffs with a small cut that's barely visible from the Caribbean Sea. The central bluff, El Morro, is about 200 feet high and is still topped by Morro Castle, a colonial fortress.
Moving On The Water
Cuba still remains a highly controlled place, which means that access to boats is very limited (which makes, ironically, for placid Caribbean bays like here in Santiago de Cuba... a dramatic contrast to boat-riddled bays in other islands). While a few entrepreneurs have gained permission to run charters, most Cubans must still rely on ferries--not their own vessels--to move across the waters.
Stars and Stripes
As dialogue opens increasingly between the United States and Cuba, this young mother strolling the waterfront of Santiago de Cuba looks like a poster for improved international relations.
El Cobre: A Religious Pilgrimage
An inspirational side trip from Santiago de Cuba is into the mineral-rich foothills of the Sierra Maestra, to El Cobre. The mining town was the site of an alleged miracle, and the resulting shrine to the Virgen de la Caridad (Virgin of Charity). Ernest Hemingway mentions El Cobre in his novel The Old Man and the Sea, and donated his Nobel Prize for Literature to the shrine (it was stolen, recovered, but is no longer displayed here).
El Cobre's Virgin of Charity
Local Flavor: Coco Frio
Few things are more Caribbean than a freshly cut coconut with the top lopped off and a straw stuck into the cool, sweet milk. The roads outside of Santiago de Cuba are the perfect setting for pulling over and ordering this particular slice of tropical flavor.